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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 9th June 2022

Belgian king fears reparations call for Congo atrocities

Blue Lines

When Belgium's King Phillipe, visiting Congo-Kinshasa from 6-11 June, returned the Kakungu mask, one of more than 84,000 artefacts looted during colonial rule, he reinforced a trend among Europe's former imperial powers. Belgium is the latest state to take small steps towards returning stolen wealth, expressing regrets for abuses and agreeing to some restitution. British, French and other European museums face growing pressure to return looted artworks to their African homes.

King Phillipe is being accompanied on the state visit by his wife Queen Mathilde and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Belgian governments have been lambasted for their reluctance to acknowledge the barbarity of King Leopold II's rule, which left over 10 million Congolese dead from attacks, disease and starvation. Two decades ago, Belgium admitted responsibility for the kidnapping and murder of independence leader Patrice Lumumba. It is finally handing over one of Lumumba's teeth, perhaps the last of his remains, to his family.

Addressing parliament in Kinshasa, King Phillipe recognised the 'suffering and humiliation' of the Congolese but shied away from a formal apology. Like most European powers, Belgium fears going down a path that could lead to demands for extensive financial reparations. Following Germany's offer of €1.3 billion to Nambia in reparations for genocide, Berlin's Ethnological Museum is to return artefacts to the country.